Soldier Emperor is a beautiful game; it plays smoothly and – for a game of its broad scope – in a reasonable stretch of real-world time. Even so, I wanted to mess with it and add more of what the role-playing end of our little industry calls “crunch.” Some added detail to bring the game’s model closer to the political/military/economic reality of the Napoleonic Wars.
Soldier Emperor’s game engine is relatively simple, and operates at two levels: there’s the game going on visibly on the map, which consists of moving armies or fleets and rolling dice to see if you score hits on the enemy. Leaders can help you move faster and help you in battle, but it’s all pretty straightforward.
The second layer is driven by card play. There is no “card phase” – you can slap down a card at any time, including during your opponent’s turn. There’s no simple move; anything can be interrupted and contested by an unforeseen event card. Card play also fires diplomacy and drives player interaction.
Sometimes it feels as if we’re swimming against a sea of disposable titles from feed-the-beast publishers, but Soldier Emperor (like Indian Empires) deserves to be one of the Games You Keep. And that’s why we’re adding the Soldier Emperor: Great Powers Campaign Study, giving each playable nation more individuality. I pondered adding the additional rules to the new Playbook edition, but that would leave thousands of players holding copies of prior editions without access to all of this fun.
Great Powers gives each of the game’s great powers (France, Britain, Spain, Austria, Prussia, Russia and the Ottoman Empire) some additional great powers unique to that nation. The seven powers have plenty of differences as the game stands, based on their geography, their economic base and the pool of units and leaders available to them. Some cards are only applicable to one power as well.
That never seemed like quite enough to me. Those factors drive player behavior, but not to the extent that I’d like to see. Each of those seven great powers, and many of the minor powers as well, were driven by their own unique historical circumstances. I wanted to show more of those.
Adding them to the game as anything other than optional rules would have been a serious mistake. Soldier Emperor was never intended as a mass-market title or anything like it, but was most definitely aimed at a more casual audience than the usual hex-and-counter wargame crowd. It always sold far better through distribution than to our direct audience, which isn’t true of almost any of our other games. But now that we’ve been ejected from American game distribution, I want Soldier Emperor to appeal to the harder-core audience as well, the ones who might have thought the game too bland for their tastes.
I suppose the smart thing would have been to just toss out the stockpile of Soldier Emperor parts (we printed vast quantities of them, since we needed to fill a shipping container). But it’s an outstanding game, and I’m determined that others learn to appreciate it as well. So we’re going to inject still more history, in the form of national rules.
The added crunch of those national rules definitely detracts from the clean play of the unmodified version; but that’s what I wanted with Great Powers. Soldier Emperor plays so easily because everyone is doing more or less the same thing: you have fleets and armies, and leaders to help them, and you try to capture enemy territories. There are no neutral nations, there are only enemies you haven’t attacked yet. If you lose some of your own territories, you can make that back (to an extent, anyway) by taking others from someone else. Home nation provinces do matter, but other provinces are pretty much interchangeable.
Great Powers changes that. Some foreign provinces mean more than others: Ottoman Turkey wants the Crimea back, from Russia. Multi-national Austria is willing to snatch just about any bordering province, given the right circumstances, but is a satiated power more interested in keeping the status quo. Prussia has more interest in acquiring German-speaking subjects than more Poles.
Each great power in Great Powers has its own quirks as well. France is better able to declare a mass levy and can maintain more troops in the field than the other powers. Austria can call out additional forces from Tirol and the Military Border. Britain has access to the London financial market.
Ottoman Turkey in Soldier Emperor operates pretty much the same way as every other great power, which is necessary for clean game-play, but doesn’t reflect the actual situation. New rules for Turkey reflect the de-centralized nature of the Ottoman state in this period, and the state of its armed forces – a small cadre of national troops, and mass armies of mostly-irregular provincials.
Victory is also defined differently for each of the great powers in Great Powers; they all have their own goals, rather than following the standard victory point mechanism from Soldier Emperor. More than one great power can win this game, if they both meet their goals. If they see enough success, they can even become dominant powers.
Soldier Emperor opens in 1803, when the Peace of Amiens was falling apart and a new coalition preparing to take the field against the newly-declared French Empire. This situation arose from a series of unlikely circumstances stretching back deep into the preceding century. Circumstances that could have been vastly different.
And so we explore some of that, with extensive pre-war options that look at how revolution might have broken out in other great powers than France. Or been snuffed out in France. Or continued in France. Poland might have survived as an independent kingdom. Austria or Prussia might have emerged triumphant in their struggle for supremacy in Germany.
Soldier Emperor is a game that deserves to be played often. I don’t want to make disposable games. Great Powers is intended to make Soldier Emperor a game that appeals to those wanting some more nuance and a great deal more history in their games.
You can order Great Powers right here.
Please allow an extra three weeks for delivery.
The Emperor’s Package
Soldier Emperor: Indian Empires
Soldier Emperor: Great Powers
Retail Price: $172.97
Package Price: $135
Gold Club Price: $108
You can experience the Emperor's Package right here.
Please allow an extra three weeks for delivery.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and NASA Journalist in Space finalist, he has published a great many books, games and articles on historical subjects; people are saying that some of them are actually good.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children, and his new puppy. He misses his Iron Dog, Leopold.
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